Environmentally Friendly Tokyo Vacation

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By Roland Oehme
April 24, 2012 

TOKYO — Tokyo may be known as a worldwide culture and technology capital, but it has also been quietly making strides to embrace green and sustainable living. If you are visiting Tokyo, Sierra Club Green Home has some suggestions for how to have a green vacation in this fast-paced megalopolis of 35 million.

Let’s say you have just arrived at Narita Airport, and want to be whisked away to a beautiful green hotel. One of the greenest hotels is Hotel Grand Fresa Akasaka. This three-star hotel holds a Green Globe Certification, and offers modern amenities, a restaurant, and a full service spa. It is centrally located in the Akasaka neighborhood near Tokyo Tower, within walking distance of many sites. The hotel even rents out bicycles to guests.

For other green hotels in Tokyo, try a Web site like Travelocity, and select the “Green/EcoFriendly” option under “Accommodation Type.” The first hotel on the list, Hotel New Otani Tokyo, underwent a major renovation in 2004 to bring up its modern safety and comfort standards. The owners also added many green features like a roof garden, a water recycling plant, a composting plant, and local organic produce.

For the nature enthusiast, take a trip far away from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo and stay instead at the Farm City Hotel. This green spa hotel is located on a hilltop overlooking Chichibu, a small city about a two hour train ride northwest of Tokyo. This hotel serves its own organic produce grown on its nearby farm, while the hotel’s restaurants also serve locally-grown produce. The main dining room serves a tantalizing blend of Japanese and Western cuisines buffet-style. Leftover produce is composted. The highlight of this hotel is its natural hot springs spa, or Onsen, where you can go to relax in the warm waters. Traditional Japanese style rooms with tatami (rice fiber) mats and Western-style rooms are available. There are many nature-oriented activities in the area, including visiting massive flower gardens in bloom, picking your own strawberries or peaches, or hiking in the hills. You can also take the train to Nagatoro, where you can take a cable car up the mountain to visit the Wintersweet and Ume Plum Trees and hike down to the village, or rent a bike, or go white water rafting.

Back in central Tokyo, there are plenty of places to do some green shopping. The interest in organic products has skyrocketed since the nuclear accident a year ago that spurred the Japanese public’s awareness about the toxins in what they consume. This means that organic options, especially baby products, clothing, and foods, are growing quickly in Japan, making it easy to be an environmentally friendly traveler.

First up is the Yoyogi Village, a new environmentally-focused shopping mall with restaurants, shops, clubs, and more, all located around a central garden courtyard. There is a clothing shop, One Mile Wear, which sells organic cotton from India. Also, there is the affordable Code Kurkku, an organic Italian restaurant.

People Tree manufactures fair trade, organic clothing in Bangladesh and organic chocolate which is available in various stores in Tokyo, such as the Mosaic Ginza Hankyu Department Store located in the central Ginza area.

There are three Bio Marche stores in the greater Tokyo area: two in the Tokyo suburbs of Saitama and Omiya, and one in Chiba, east of Tokyo. They sell primarily organic foods, but also some organic clothing, cosmetics, toiletries, and baby supplies.

By now you must have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are many choices for healthy dining in Tokyo. One of my favorite cafes is the Brown Rice Café, a well-designed, serene, Zen-like restaurant with delicious organic, vegan, and macrobiotic Japanese foods. Located near the Harajuku train station, this café is hidden in a sunken level with indoor and outdoor seating and also sells organic groceries.

Almost right across the street is the Crayon House. It has an organic shop upstairs and a restaurant (with indoor and outdoor dining) and food store on the lower level. The restaurant serves Japanese-style, organic-focused meals with vegan and vegetarian options.

Rainbow Raw Food Café is a small, delightful, diner-like café located in the central area of Tokyo, just a few minutes’ walk from the Hamamatsu-cho train station. The western style, exclusively raw, vegan food served here is delicious and well-presented. Get here early, as the café is very popular at lunchtime!

If you are more adventurous, you can head northwest by train to Komagawa to visit the organic, vegetarian restaurant and store called Alishan Organic Center. One can relax at the café’s beautiful setting of large trees and the indoor and outdoor seating areas overlook a river below.

Tokyo is one of the easiest cities to get around as a tourist. Virtually all parts of Tokyo are accessible via subway, train, or bus. The only issue when taking the mass transit is the language barrier, but your hotel, tourist offices, and the staff at the train stations can help. There is even a rechargeable smart card available that can be used on all the mass transit in Tokyo. Simply purchase the card, add however much you need, and use it for any bus or subway. There are also taxis in Tokyo that offer the best service I have seen anywhere.

Tokyo is also very much a walking city. Be prepared and bring your backpack! There are also bicycle rentals available. However, it is easy to get lost, since there are virtually no street signs. If you can go further out of the city, one can bicycle on the greenway along the Arakawa River going north from central Tokyo for hours.

Here is a suggestion for a fun day. Eat lunch at the Rainbow Raw Food Café, and then walk over to the nearby Hama-rikyu Gardens, a former feudal lord’s residence during the Edo Period. This park is nice for strolling through the grounds with big trees, ponds, bridges, a teahouse, and flowering fields. It sits right on the waterfront, so next you can take a sightseeing boat up the river passing by multi-colored bridges to the center of Tokyo. Disembark here and then you can walk to the Lantern Temple to experiences some of Tokyo’s history.

Another fun idea is to visit the Yumenoshima Tropical Plant Dome, a tropical plants glass conservatory. Here you will marvel at the many spectacular flowers, like orchids, and the lush green growth, like tall bamboo. Children can play games of stacking blocks, and there is a small café overlooking the garden through windows.

Tokyo is such an immense city that visiting it can feel intimidating. However, with some thoughtful research and planning before the trip, you can enjoy a planet-friendly vacation of your own choosing. Also, do not be afraid to ask for a bicycle rental shop or a vegetarian café, etc. at the tourist centers or your hotel. Tokyo’s green movement will be encouraged if visitors to Tokyo ask about and visit the environmentally friendly places and activities.

Traveler Resources:
Travelocity: select the “Green/EcoFriendly” option under Accommodation Type
Article:A Brand New Village in the Heart of Tokyo
Survival Guide for Vegetarians in Tokyo
Tokyo Vegetarian Guide
Regional Veg Guide

For related articles, see:
Changi Airport, Singapore’s Green Gateway

Roland Oehme is a green and healthy living landscape architect and writer. Check out his blogs Green Harmony Design and We Love Raw Food.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.

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